Friday morning community members, family and friends poured into the Babe Harder Gym at Marshalltown Community College.
The sounds of bagpipes greeted them at the entrance as young children ran about, wearing red, white and blue and tightly holding teddy bears. Families comforted each other with hugs, tissues and prayers.
The send-off ceremony was one of many being held across the state this week for an historic event - the largest deployment of the Iowa National Guard since World War II.
With 50 soldiers from the local Detachment 1 Brigade Special Troops Battalion leaving for additional training, and ultimately a year-long deployment to Afghanistan, Marshalltown stood proudly by its side.
As these soldiers depart we would like to remind them of the gratitude we have for each of them. We will forever be grateful for their service.
Moreover, we remember the families and friends who are saying goodbye. The wives who are lending their strongest companions, the sons who won't see Dad cheering him on at a baseball game and the granddaughter who will learn how to walk while Grandpa is fighting in war.
As your loved ones deploy to Afghanistan, know you are in our prayers as well. It is because of you that these men and women can honorably serve this great country. It is with your support that they can complete their mission.
It is almost unimaginable to a civilian to understand the commitment of a soldier's family. But one thing was evident at Friday's ceremony - strong families make strong soldiers. While your support will be from a distance, it's the spirit of understanding and love that you've shown them that they will carry into battle.
The Times-Republican staff holds a special gratitude for our Marshalltown unit and their families. After being part of an embedded media trip to Camp Ripley, Minn., we were able to gain a new respect and understanding of the soldiers' mission. More importantly, we were able to to share that experience with our readers and our community.